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Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Toward a General Theory of Neural Nets

Good thoughtful piece in Quanta Mag.  Does not mean we have solved the general problem, nor does it mean we have even successfully used the model of biological neurons completely for AI problems.  I do like the steam engine analog.   We know somewhat how to use them to solve some problems.  But there is still a long way to go.

Foundations Built for a General Theory of Neural Networks   By Kevin Hartnett, Senior Writer

Neural networks can be as unpredictable as they are powerful. Now mathematicians are beginning to reveal how a neural network’s form will influence its function.
withstand an earthquake of a certain strength.

But with one of the most important technologies of the modern world, we’re effectively building blind. We play with different designs, tinker with different setups, but until we take it out for a test run, we don’t really know what it can do or where it will fail. 

This technology is the neural network, which underpins today’s most advanced artificial intelligence systems. Increasingly, neural networks are moving into the core areas of society: They determine what we learn of the world through our social media feeds, they help doctors diagnose illnesses, and they even influence whether a person convicted of a crime will spend time in jail.

Yet “the best approximation to what we know is that we know almost nothing about how neural networks actually work and what a really insightful theory would be,” said Boris Hanin, a mathematician at Texas A&M University and a visiting scientist at Facebook AI Research who studies neural networks.

He likens the situation to the development of another revolutionary technology: the steam engine. At first, steam engines weren’t good for much more than pumping water. Then they powered trains, which is maybe the level of sophistication neural networks have reached. Then scientists and mathematicians developed a theory of thermodynamics, which let them understand exactly what was going on inside engines of any kind. Eventually, that knowledge took us to the moon.

“First you had great engineering, and you had some great trains, then you needed some theoretical understanding to go to rocket ships,” Hanin said.  .... " 

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